Maybe The Shutdown Won’t Be A Turning Point

Nate Silver entertains the possibility:

Most political stories have a fairly short half-life and won’t turn out to be as consequential as they seem at the time. … None of this applies if the United States actually does default on its debt this time around, or if the U.S. shutdown persists for as long as Belgium’s. But if the current round of negotiations is resolved within the next week or so, they might turn out to have a relatively minor impact by November 2014.

He goes on to argue that, even “if the shutdown were to have a moderate political impact — and one that favored the Democrats in races for Congress — it might not be enough for them to regain control of the U.S. House”:

First, there are extremely few swing districts — only one-half to one-third as many as when the last government shutdown occurred in 1996. Some of this is because of partisan gerrymandering, but more of it is because of increasingly sharp ideological divides along geographic lines: between urban and rural areas, between the North and the South, and between the coasts and the interior of the United States.

So even if Democrats make significant gains in the number of votes they receive for the House, they would flip relatively few seats because of the way those votes are distributed. Most of the additional votes would come in districts that Democrats were already assured of winning, or where they were too far behind to catch up.

Nate Cohn agrees:

[I]f Democrats do as well in 2014 as they did in 2006, they’ll gain far fewer seats, simply because the best pick-up opportunities are already held by Democrats. Or put differently: without 8 or 9 pick-ups in lean-Democratic districts, a 2006-esque wave would only barely get the Democrats over the 17 seat threshold they need to take back the House in 2014.

All of this ignores, I think, a central factor. Will this experience traumatize enough Republicans to begin to inch back from the precipice of far right Southern nullification politics they now favor? We have to wait and see. My fear is that their cultural alienation and economic vulnerability and religious fundamentalism has gone too far to be turned back any time soon. Maybe a presidential candidate who runs against the Tea Party could do it. But the climate of fear is hard to pierce; and the epistemic closure is close to hermetic at this point.